Was Steve Lean?

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I don't know that much about Apple. The only gemba I've visited are lots of Apple stores (I don't know if they're lean but they go far in solving customers' problems) and a few (far from lean) suppliers in East Asia.

The day after Jobs' death, an impromptu memorial appeared along "Entrepreneurs Walk of Fame" in front of LEI, at Kendall Square, Cambridge MA

Since his death, comparisons of Steve Jobs with great innovators and industrialists have been plentiful, with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford mentioned most often. The Edison comparison is off the mark, since I consider Edison as an inventor first, and businessman second, with little interest nor aptitude for working the bridge between his inventions and commercialization.

Though known as innovators, the secret to the success of Jobs and Ford was not that they actually invented anything like light bulbs. Ford didn't invent the automobile. Nor did he really invent the idea of flow production or interchangeable parts. Likewise, Jobs didn't invent the PC, the graphical interface, the music player, music, the telephone, the tablet PC. What Jobs did, like Henry before him, was put it all together as a total package. And the packages they developed were innovative and complete beyond imagination.

Instructive parallels between Jobs and Ford come easily. Ford’s critical role in the history of lean thinking is well established – he was the first to achieve sustained flow production on a big scale and flow production is the operational aim of any lean operating system. Ford became the richest, most famous industrialist of his time through introducing a breakthrough product. But, what was truly revolutionary about Ford’s achievement was that he packaged his breakthrough product with an even greater breakthrough production process and business model.

Both men were also renowned for their infamous flaws. Demanding, abusive, confident to the point of being dismissive of the views of others – not exactly embodying the all-important lean principle of "respect for people."

Jobs and Ford shared an unrelenting pursuit of improvement – as long as they were in charge. Daily kaizen practiced by everyone was a hallmark of the approach of neither; they didn't necessarily value the views of the little man, certainly not of the workers who built their products. Ford is applauded for supporting his workforce through such grand actions as instituting his famous $5 per day pay and establishing the Ford English School to provide his workers with needed education. But those moves – while completely laudable – were mostly self-serving (nothing wrong with that, of course). He needed to attract workers in numbers never before seen. He had done the math and knew he would have no problem paying the unprecedented day rate. The fact that the workers could then afford the products they produced was a nice plus. As for the school – workers learned English and even American manners so they could be better citizens – from Ford's standpoint he was able to attract new (documented, I wondered?) immigrants to work effectively on his assembly lines.

One of the more interesting parallels between the two men can be found in their supply chain thinking. Ford became the most famous proponent of extreme vertical integration. Vertical integration was in Ford’s view a way to extend flow from end to end. Note, however, that Ford never extended the integration to dealers, as Jobs later did.

Similarly, Jobs famously kept far more operations in-house than anyone in his industry. He did hardware design, software, operating systems, web services, consumer devices, even retail, insisting on seamless integration throughout. And he held to that approach during an era when it was thoroughly discredited within his industry, and beyond, a time when academic theorists, consultants, and industry practitioners all preached the virtues of greater outsourcing of operations to focus instead on a few core competencies. (Interestingly, the Macintosh was first produced at a new state-of-the-art facility – reportedly using "just-in-time manufacturing" – in Fremont CA, walking distance from the NUMMI plant, starting in early 1984, exactly the same time Toyota and GM were preparing to reopen the old GM factory there.)

Regarding the production supply chain specifically, Jobs - unlike Henry Ford - did not try to keep his component manufacture in-house and is usually dismissed as simply following his industry's model of chasing lowest global piece price. Actually, however, Jobs followed a modified vertical integration model not at all unlike Toyota. Toyota followed neither the extreme vertical integration model of Ford in actually owning his suppliers nor the modular supply model of Dell and others of shopping contracts around to the lowest bidders. Rather, Jobs chose to work closely with a small number of suppliers with whom (as I understand it) he would develop close relationships. This approach flew directly in the face of the Dell model which was the darling of investment analysts and MBA professors. Not unlike Ford's actions with his workers, Jobs motives, weren’t altruistic; his objective was control of the situation.

That takes us back to that charge of the most "unlean" of practices: Jobs' apparent lack of respect toward the workers who built his products on the other side of the world. While structurally Jobs' supply chain had striking similarities with Toyota's, in the case of the latter, great effort was expended to extend respect in the form of engagement of all employees, including factory workers. No old Fordist "check your brain at the door" -- engagement of the entire person in daily kaizen was encouraged and expected by Toyota.

But, the most thought-provoking parallel between the two men was in their approach and phenomenal success with product-process innovation. Jobs, like Ford, was convinced he knew what his customers needed better than they did.

Ford is often quoted as saying: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

Similarly, from Jobs: "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." Jobs liked to quote Wayne Gretzky as pointing out that you don't skate to where the puck is, you skate to where it will be.

Both men made decisions based not on market research or customer feedback but a vision of what their products would do for people. They were solving for customer need, not want. By the way, Toyota also traditionally put more product decisions in the hands of chief engineers, relying much less than competitor companies on formal market research – no focus groups, please!

And, interestingly, products introduced by Jobs as well as Henry Ford and Toyota chief engineers were phenomenally successful, less because they introduced breakthrough technology but because they left out unneeded technology to create simple, user-friendly (which would have been said of the Model T had the term been around then) products and customer experiences.

Ford's Model T was already a huge success before he figured out how to make masses of them cheaply with his assembly line. In addition to affordable personal mobility, the Model T provided a deeply personal connection with its users. It was personified, given names, treated like a member of the family. There is a lot in common between the human-like bond created by the Tin Lizzy with its hand crank starter in 1907 and the Mac with its simple cursive, lower case "hello" start-up screen only 80 years later.

Steve Jobs and Henry Ford are important not because of any specific technical invention. Far more importantly, Jobs in his era and Ford in his grasped the social and technical situations of their respective eras so deeply and thoroughly that they were able to integrate product, process, and even business model in ways that were transformative for their customers, companies … even the world. One of Jobs famous quotes was, "Stay hungry, stay foolish." Never be satisfied, always have fun. Sounds pretty lean to me.

Of course, whether or not Steve Jobs was lean is not an important question. But, how we think about that question may say a lot about what we think lean is. So, what do you think – was Steve Jobs lean?

John Shook
Chairman and CEO
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.

114 Comments | Post a Comment
Christiane October 20, 2011
Amazing article!
Mike Farrell October 20, 2011

I think that when we consider Toyota's motivation in Kaizen, it was as simple as "we have a lot of resources we can't get rid of, let's use them." Jobs and Ford make an excellent comparison and point to how much we love the heroic CEO and why they can make a difference. 

However, if you are an Apple Stockholder or a Ford Stockholder or a Toyota Stockholder or a stakeholder in any organization, what happens after the heroic CEO? I think that the ultimate test of the executive is what happens when his song ends and someone else takes over. We'll see. 

Was he lean? Who cares? Was he good at his job? Looks that way, but as the Chou En Lai once said about the French Revolution, it's too soon to tell. 

Chuck DeLadurantey October 20, 2011
I think the idea of anticipating needs not considered or perceived by your customers is key here.  I work in delivering Lean to the healthcare industry, we can use some of that thinking for sure.
Marty Galpin October 20, 2011
I enjoyed the article, thanks for sharing it with me. I'm pretty new to the "Lean scene", so it's hard for me to intelligently opine, but one Lean thing that jumps out at you when you think of Steve Jobs and Apple is continuous improvement!  
Marc Rouppe van der Voort October 20, 2011
I was always impressed by Steve's apparant relentless feedback on prototypes that they had to work perfect and effortless. In that sense, he gave very clear target conditions and created a culture where people are motivated to improve continuously in a fast pace. However, what impresses me by Toyota is the way they put learning in front of speed to attain a sustainable development of people and processes. How sustainable is the level of learning within the approach of Steve? I don't know enough details to judge this, but Apple is already longer succesful than I had expected. I do still have doubts however whether it has the same 'build to last' sustainable effect as with Toyota's approach. It seems to have been more dependent on Steve the on the system and could become very vulnerable now that he's gone. Time will tell.
Jeff Bennett October 20, 2011
I don't know, but the answer may come in the coming months and years.  A hallmark of lean leadership is the focus on mentorship and developing problem-solving skills throughout the organization.  If Apple remains adept at generating products that customers value, it may be said that he was able to influence the organization to "stay hungry, stay foolish". Since I doubt the organizational management model can turn on a dime, his legacy will be the performance of that model.   
Akihiko October 20, 2011
Steve lean?  Sure; He wore the same style mock turtleneck and jeans everyday to prevent extra processing. 

In general, this article has an interesting philosophy.  However, some of the assumptions are far from correct. 
- Toyota's placement of value on suppliers and expectation of kaizen involvement has not improved their position relative to they way Apple does it. 
- Toyota does not use the "the customer doesn't know what they want yet" mentality; far from it - Toyota is principally behind VOC which is where the puck used to be.
- Also, Toyota by "putting more product decisions in the hands of their chief engineers" has rightly given Toyota the reputation as having the most "bland" and "prosaic" and "uninspired" vehicles on the market (cf. Motor Trend, Car & Driver, Road & Track)
Mark Ostrow October 20, 2011
To me, Steve Jobs embodies lean consumption more than lean production:

1.  Solve the customer's problem completely by insuring that all the goods and services work, and work together.
2.  Don't waste the customer's time.
3.  Provide exactly what the customer wants.
4.  Provide what's wanted exactly where it's wanted.
5.  Provide what's wanted where it's wanted exactly when it's wanted.
6.  Continually aggregate solutions to reduce the customer's time and hassle.

To that list, I would add a seventh: Solve the problem I didn't know I had.
Danie Vermeulen October 20, 2011

Thanks John - great article!

Steve Jobs may not have ticked all the boxes to be Lean from a purist point of view, but based on my own Apple experience ... compared with their competitors, there is certainly less waste, better quality and more customer satisfaction.

John Gay October 20, 2011

I think Jobs was "lean" to the extent it was useful to him.  Not as a blind program or all-or-nothing. But as with Ford's "faster horse," if one lacks the right product, lean work might only extend the product's life a bit longer.  Jobs was smart enough to outsource work but not control.  Apple product quality reflects this. 

Ben Ritzenthaler October 20, 2011
Lean is not always about the shortest distance between point A and point B. The customer may want to join in your success story and draw value from that vertual partnership. :)
Frank Mangini October 20, 2011
O f course Steve Jobs was lean. He was all round lean, lean in body stature, lean in thought and lean in action. Respect for people? In his own way, yes I would say. His respect for people was to demand the most they were capable of accomplishing. He constantly pull them to achieve at his level of intensity. Yes, Steve Jobs was lean. 
Matt Thavis - Acme Alliance, LLC October 20, 2011

All great visionaries are lean they seek to continuously improve people, products or processes. 

Steve Jobs did this, thanks for the article, I really enjoyed it!

Joseph October 20, 2011
He produced products that sold themselves. When new products were being introduced, people would line-up like sheep to hand over their money for Apple products.
When there is such unrestrained enthusiasm for a product, it does not need to be produced in a "Lean" fashion.
He didn't need to be Lean. Toyota does.
Marcus Oksa October 20, 2011
Now that is an interesting question. I didn't see a whole lot of Lean in the examples, but I did see the implications of innovation in the absence of Lean thinking. In the article you talk about two great minds that were pioneers of their industry, and sometimes that is all it takes to be successful. Solve the problems others have not even experienced yet.

I think the problem is that too many "leaders" think they know it all and don't need input from others (the opposite of Lean). The reason you can write an article about two men from over a half century apart is because those mind/moment/machine opportunities truly come along once in a life-time (or maybe twice). Meanwhile there are uncountable many bad bosses, and anti-Lean leaders that act with the same arrogance that these two did.

I don't mean to vilainize them, far from it, I just don't want every know-it-all to think they are the next Steve or Henry, and deny the application of sound Lean principals in their wake.
Visionary - Not Lean October 20, 2011
Apple is an interesting model because of it's ability to innovate not necessarily because it is lean.  Lean in the way that Toyota would think is not was Apple or Steve Jobs embodies.  There is not much room form VOC because they are, as John points out, giving what is needed not wanted.  If they could make the products closer to the point of consumption AND maintain profit levels that could provide a case for a lean model; sadly that is not the case...yet.  A quick look at the roles within Apple shows that there is little in common with a lean approach taken by the benchmark companies but as in Apple's case is proof that you don't have to be lean to be successful, at least in the short term. Relative to Apple vs. the rest of the world, they have not been around long and just like Dell could suffer a similar fate now that a visionary is not longer with them.  Time will tell but it was Tim Cook, the current CEO, that got them out of running their own manufacturing since it was not a core competency.  A shrewd move but one that hinges a great deal on managing suppliers which can be a slippery slope.  So far so good for Apple but in the long run a company that reports to being focused on the community will need to consider shorter supply chains and the elimination of the working capital issues that are massive within the chains that have been set up.
Karen Favazza Spencer October 20, 2011

There is no question that Apple became great because of Steve Jobs' vision and focus. He did a lot of things right. He also did a lot of things wrong. And… when it was necessary, he had the bucks to stay the course in the face of failure until the timing was right. I do not believe he is a role model of Lean or any other methodology; he was too much of an iconic hero for that. However, I do think that several of the things he got right, such as,  emphasizing the user experience, end to end analysis, iterative & incremental product development, encouraging a team environment where multiple solutions are explored, maximizing relationships and simplifying user choice are all in the "Agile" philosophy, be it labeled Lean, Scrum or XP. http://web.me.com/seabreezes1

Katherine Radeka October 20, 2011

I've been following Steve Jobs' work for years, ever since I became a freshman at Jobs' "alma mater", Reed College (he dropped out but famously learned about proportional fonts in a Calligraphy class).  We had Macs everywhere.

You may be interested in an article I wrote for my own community about Steve Jobs from the perspective of lean product development.

It's here:


Katherine Radeka

M.Thornberry October 20, 2011

As the saying goes, Lean is as Lean does. Steve paid attention to the important things and did them well, so yes I believe he fostered lean thinking.

Michael Bremer October 20, 2011

Interesting comments and as usual an interesting thought from John.  Was Steve Jobs "lean"?  Certainly not in the sense of replicating what Toyota does, the way they do it.  But Toyota's approach is simply one pathway.  It is not the only pathway to successfully and sustainably grow.


The beauty of Apple in my mind was their constant ability to thumb their nose at what the rest of the pack was doing.  It was part of their core DNA from its very first days in the garage. In Steve's first career with Apple 'thumbing your nose at the rest of the pack became disproportionately important' and I think they lost sight of creating high value for customers.  A trend that was continued after Steve departed, with disasterous results.

When he came back, 'thinking different' was still an Apple mantra and an important thing to do but there was a renewed laser like focus on value creation for customers.  Which in my mind is one of the most important elements of lean.  If you get the value proposition correct, that can over come a lot of other problems in life.

What is lean?  It can be many things, that is part of it's beauty.  If lean were truly 'one' thing we would all do it and there would not be much differentiation in life or in work.  Thankfully differences do exist.  Continuing that thought of what is lean?  It certainly includes:

• If something does not work, identify the root cause - deterimine why and address the issue?

• Eliminate barriers that inhibit performance

• Don't have parts (or code for that matter) that is/are not needed

Apple certainly was largely a practitioner of the above three criteria.  Is that all inclusive of 'absolute lean' of course not.  Did Apple create value that customers cared about?  ABSOLUTELY and I'm personally very thankful they did.  

The big question everyone wants to know is will Apple continue to prosper after it's heart and soul departed.  I'm certain people asked the same question about Toyota when Sakichi Toyoda passed the mantle to Kiichiri Toyoda.  Time will tell, I certainly wish them the best.

Best wishes to all,
Michael Bremer

John M October 20, 2011
I'm not sure that Apple would ever do a similar $5 per day pay scale for their Chinese supplier workers (250K at FoxConn) as their apparent success comes on the back of cheap labor. 
Ron Andrews October 20, 2011
Didn't inven t anything? His name is on severl hundred patents. Many of them are design patents, but they count too. A good design makes a product more useful.
Dan Perry October 20, 2011

The article is excellent in making us think of what being "lean" really is.  In my view, simplification is the goal, whether it be in producing automobiles or electronic tablets. Finding the easiest way of doing something.  I've often said that necessity is NOT the mother of invention, laziness is the mother of invention.  Ford, Jobs, Toyota, we all strive for finding the simple way to achieving what seems to be complex.

I think that the concept of "lean" needs to be allowed to grow past any set of confining definitions.  There is and will always be ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT.  We only get stuck when we fail to  believe that. 

So was Job's a lean thinker? Sure he was.  Can Apple produce new and improved products through improved prosesses? Sure they can.

The real question is can Apple make an iPhone that really works as a telephone? It works great as a little computer - but I bought it to use it as a telephone.  My old rotary dial telephone always rang when someone called and when I talked to them they could hear me and I could hear them.  Can Apple do that?  How is it that AT&T covers 97% of the population of the US and I am constantly stuck in the 3% that gets no or crappy service?  In the MIDDLE of Austin TX USA???


tom lane October 20, 2011
As a Kaizen consultant, I worked with many companies and I would assess them in 2 fundamental ways.  Were they Strategic in focus or Operational.  Kaizen was classically (as developed by Toyota) an operational approach, and when I hit a company with lots of Strategic people in charge, I found it tough going.  Steve seems to be the epitome of the Strategic approach and I can see that he did that well.
   But, his products were expensive and had to have the design features to justify that.  If you are competing in a mainly cost to quality environment, that approach may be hard. 
    I remember working with Bob Lutz at Chrysler and he was a great "car guy" who was similar in figuring out what a sexy car looked like.  He had no interest in the shop floor, suppliers, or production process.  But he was a valuable car guy on the strategic end.  The struggled with Kaizen for  many of the same reasons most of the commenters are familiar with, but if you have only the strategic folks running the show, you do not get far.
   Toyota seems to be Operational in focus which does lead to the "bland and ordinary" another commenter noted.  But they broke into an industry and set the tone for quality.  Any of you old enough to remember the factories of the 70's, know how dismal we were here.  So it is about many factors and Steve aced the ones he went after. 
 As a final point, I see lean as also balanced, and in that area, I do not think Steve passed the test.  Just my outsider view.      
Ty Trykowski October 20, 2011

Was Steve Jobs lean?  Well, he certainly was a modern day entrepreneur and capitalist.  Whether Jobs gave the customer, what they wanted or informed the customer of what they wanted is still debatable.  He gave the world progression.  He envisioned a strategy, delivered upon it and capitalized on his endeavor.  Nevertheless, was Steve Jobs lean?  I think not.

Certainly, he captured many of the characteristics we would typically associate with Lean, but did he create standardized work?  Did he map his processes?  Did he really deliver the customer what they wanted?  Did he go to the gemba?  The answers to these questions maybe only he can answer.  Since lean is so much more than tools we would need to understand his business model.

                However, from a devoted LEAN proponent I would question just how lean you have to be when you are making money delivering to people what they desire, not need, or want but desired.  I certainly admire and respect Steve Jobs for his insight, leadership, and personal drive that ultimately lead to one of the most successful individuals of the last century.  But Steve Jobs, my guess, was not very Lean.

MeanLean October 20, 2011
Dan Perry... maybe switch cell phone service providers.  I'm sure AT&T's "coverage" in Austin is not Steve's fault. 
Ben Dunn October 20, 2011
modern day entrepreneur and capitalist would he be...in Reality...success isn't about money and fame but what you start with has opportunity for improvement... 
Judy Pecorella October 20, 2011

Great article and great comments.  Especially liked the analysis between Operational and Strategic thinking.  I'm an Operational person myself, albeit one who greatly appreciates Jobs' Strategic innovations.  I do tend to agree with those who wonder what will happen to Apple's vision and operations now that he is gone.  If he were Lean, he left behind a mentor structure and a five year plan ... only time will tell.
Meanwhile, those of us that are simply trying to build a better mousetrap will have to continue to rely on lean to keep us competitive.  RIP, Steve.

Lee Weiser October 20, 2011
Lean is a journey to quote LEI. You probably have to go back to the point where information delivery companies came to the same conclusion that all media would soon be delivered via few or maybe one conduit. I decided to listen to microsofts ideas on it. Their approach was much the same as before when they became the standard for operating systems. They thought they could control the net through the .net revolution. They ignored the device itself. A mistake as few care how the net works. They focus on convenient access and the ease at which they can see, use and transmit information.

Jobs was lean whether he thought so or not. It seems to me he recognised then created a successful value stream for his business. A value stream that produced products customers cared about and are willing to afford.
Ty Trykowski October 20, 2011
Reality...success isn't about money and fame but what you start with has opportunity for improvement...  Somehow I think Jobs might say differently, I met him and he was driven by Money and fame in his own words. Does that make him bad I do not believe so.  He was rewriting history sounds like fame to me Ben.
Jason October 20, 2011
As you mentioned, Jobs focused on the customer's needs, not their wants.

We typically "want" to save money.  But we "need" a product that works. 

For many people Apple has provided that solution.  As an Apple product owner, I buy Apple products because they work right out of the box.  I don't have time to track down all the drivers, mess around with manual updates, install virus protection, etc.  Do I "want" to hack into it a little (like jailbreaking an iphone)?  Sure!  Do I "need" to?  No!

Let's move onto cost.  A Mac computer typically costs more than a PC.  (No pun intended but true cost in a Apples to Apples comparison is a hot topic for debate when talking about what costs more when comparing two equivalent machines).  But guess what, I'm willing to pay it.  Apparently so are hundreds of thousands of other people - even in a "bad economy".  This speaks volumes for Apple's marketing, but it also speaks to their ability to meet the customer's "needs".  Most people who buy one Apple product, continue to buy Apple products.  This tells me that they are happy with the product long after the fun of a new gadget has worn off.

Apple also tapped into the buy experience.  Going to the Apple store and buying a new computer is truly and experience.  You are greeted (and then helped) by someone who understands the product.  I can't say the same for someone at a "big box" store...their sales reps seem to only push whatever their manager tells them to sell that week.

The "unboxing" experience of an Apple product just gives you the feeling that you bought a quality product.  Other companies have followed suit, but when companies were pinching pennies and shipping their product in the smallest, thinnest packaging possible, Apple products were coming in boxes 2-3 times the size of the item (think about the iPhone) with the "box in a box" configuration.  It just felt expensive when you opened it.

If we are talking lean and discuss "value added" vs "non value added" we ask the question, "will the customer pay for this"?  Typically it is when we are looking at wasted steps in a process.  Jobs added elements to the purchasing experience that people would certainly pay for.  Whether it was features in the product itself, or the physical/emotional experience of buying the product.  Was the cost of that experience burried in the price tag somewhere?  Sure!  But guess what?   People line up outside their stores to pay it.

Lean isn't ONLY about cutting costs, its also about maximing your results.  In that perspective...I think Jobs was lean!
Bob Clapper October 20, 2011

Steve Jobs was one of those rare visionaries that are instinctively lean in their thinking.  He set a clear vision that all in his company understood, practiced continuous improvement with his company’s string of ever improving products, and had a focus on customer satisfaction.

Lean consultants that earn their money are helping the less rare top managers learn to set and communicate a clear long term vision for the rest of their company.  A company full of black belts without an overall sustained vision will not be the next Apple.

Rhonda Goss October 20, 2011
Having spent 4.5 years working for Honda and Toyota, the American management who were not Supervisors were told to check their brain at the door so please don't indicate that this only happened in American companies.
tom lane October 20, 2011
Wow, what a rich collection of comments!  The one thing missing that was in the article is the stuff about the people. A good friend worked at Apple for a few years (quit to avoid complete burnout) and he said that the place was always in high gear.  You were given a project and lots of responsibility and you went with it and met the deadline.  That always sounded like a bunch of highly capable individualists and it seems to work there. 
    Not sure that would work in the more integrated factories I worked with.   This takes nothing from what Jobs accomplished.  Just that he may be much  more difficult to translate as a way to run a company!   
Gary Cone October 20, 2011

John, I find it interesting that you might wonder if Steve Jobs was like you and subscribed to your religion. He isn't and didn't. There are many types of intelligence and discipline required to make great organizations - you pocess a different kind than Jobs had. Both are important.

I do think the comparison of him to Ford is a good one. Ford was known to hang out with the great thinkers of the day and so was Jobs. Both seemed to be generous with their knowledge and insights where they respected the intellect of the other person.

I think the comment of unfairness is one you should level at all who have chosen to take advantage of the Chinese economic "miracle", even your beloved Toyota. We have all participated in the advantage given by going to China where it is clear damage to the production worker and damage to the environment is rampant.

Clearly Jobs (or at least the Apple purchasing department) was loyal to their supply base and their supply base responded by looking to be as dependable as the best at bringing product to market at the front end of a market - as dependable as the best like Intel.

Just my opinion.

GNG October 20, 2011
I don't think being Lean even entered into the mind of Steve when creating his products.  Lean is only for those companies that are going bankrupt or failing to hit consecutive profit and revunue goals expected by Wall Street.  If the product is "right" the customers will come.  Lean or not lean.  I dont think customers even ask the question nor do they question the price of a product that is truely of high quality and best in the world.  Do buyers of Rolls Royce question the price tag?  
Jeffrey Howard October 20, 2011

I'm not sure if Steve Jobs was lean or not. What I do know was that he helped to bring a new voice to a market filled with sloppy and all-too-glamorous retreads of the same tired ideas. His need for control led to a streamlined vision made actual and a family of products that worked in ways we hadn't imagined they could. 

Skating to where the puck is involves not just the need for control, but it involves tremendous risk and faith that something will work and be accepted by the masses. 

Jobs did that over and over again, helping to redefine what this device I'm typin on--and others like it--could do for you and what our relationship to them could be. 


Was Jobs lean? Certainly leaner in the sense that he wasn't as constrained by orthodox practices in the marketplace and many of his company's innovations were smarter and better than the rest. 

Lean or not, I appreciate what he achieved and the direction that he helped Apple to travel. I think more leanly and more individually because of it.

Jorge October 20, 2011
I believe his innovation led to lean not lean led to innovation
José Roberto Nunes October 20, 2011

These guys were visionaries. They created the future!

Very nice article.



Cory Baron October 20, 2011

I agree with Karen on Jobs not being an icon of Lean but one must really understand the fundamental (what TPS integrated upon) that Jobs exemplifies:

1) Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service.

Deming's point #1

Steve Jobs and his success (not only with Apple) is that he is a profound leader.  A leadership that can identify value. What can one learn from his leadership success?

Jobs leadership drives Deming's first point: constancy of purpose. With Pixar: Story is King, that principle communicated to Pixar staff what their exact vision is (and I expect there was senior management commitment behind it) resulting in creating some of the best movies that customers wanted. With Apple? Is it to provide "where the puck will be" vs. Lean VOC "where the puck is"?

But now you have Apple's success confronting "Lean". It only muddies the water to attach Steve Jobs to whatever Lean is and is becomming. But what one can learn from Steve Jobs is his Leadership and how he find & defines Value

I remember seeing a very short interview with Jobs just as he was being pulled back into Apple: That man is passionate and loves what he does. My lasting impression: I'd kill to work for a leadership like that.

Alastair Watts October 20, 2011
Turning out massive amounts of widgets at the cost of human health... Can the question of whether Jobs was lean, really be asked?
Colin October 20, 2011

Steve Jobs was a narcissistic zealot who developed and used his cult of personality very well to sell an image and through that product.

I fear that we will see Apple relapse as it did 20 years ago. This is not due to bad current leadership (just as it wasn't then; although many argue that it was). It is due to the very nature of Job's "Leadership".

He sets a companies workforce a fire and sends them running for the goal, riding them the entire way there. As long as he is there he can keep it going. Once he is gone everything falls apart in exhaustion and all the issues come to the surface like 3rd degree burns.

Ohno, Deming, Juran, The Gilbreths; anyone from the best elements of our history would be appalled at many of his practices with regards to his people.  In many ways he is the antithesis of the Lean manager and the epitome of the American management ideal.

Visionary, yes; but for those of us who practice this art with the understanding that is a social fabric that we are creating to support and knit production processes together we should be terrified by the ideal that this man has left in his wake.

Response October 20, 2011

The article didn’t provide any adequate evidence that Jobs was a lean thinker. With that said, the fact the apple was able to produce such vast progressions in technology and maintain a reasonable price structure with seemingly decent quality, I would have to assume that there are some great Lean thinkers within the company.

Robert Stahl October 20, 2011


Your last piece on people altering the pure TPS as being inappropriate struck me as being flawed. I wrote to you regarding that piece looking for a response (which I've not gotten) about Toyota's huge finished goods inventory that they PUSH to distributors (dealers) whether they like it or not. Because of this, I dont' think Toyota is totally LEAN! What say you? 

This piece on Jobs and Apple is equally confusing. What Apple has accomplished is unparalleled -- whether or not it is "Lean" is not the quesion -- unless you've got a point of view still to be proven. No question LEAN has tremendous merit, but it seems to me that your blinded by LEAN thinking as being all things and the only thing that matters. 

While Toyota is perhaps the premier manufacturung company of our time, Apple is the premier company of our time -- affecting so much of what we do, and how we do it. 

From where I sit, John -- much of your stuff lately is focused norrowely on only that which you do. There is a bigger world out there. 

Thanks for listening. 

Bob Stahl 

Mike Looney October 20, 2011
Mark Ostrow gets it right.

Steve Jobs embodies TRIZ if anything; Michael Dell embodied lean.

Within the context of Lean Innovation - reducing waste and aggregating as-yet unanticipated value streams for the customer - Jobs and Company certainly qualify. Perhaps the Zen of Lean is that creativity precludes waste.

Thanks for the illuminating article!
Petter Wolff October 20, 2011

I'd ask "Was (is) Apple lean?". Secretive as they are, it's difficult to know. But I'm fairly sure that they have many of the lean product development practices in place (as described by Kennedy for example). I'd also wager they practice lean accounting in some form (or rather, I'm pretty sure they don't do MBA style accounting, or run SAP). When it comes to Jobs, he definitively had respect for people's capacity, although it apparently came out as bullying at times. Could he have played that differently with the same results? Maybe, probably. But the number of Apple dropouts or Apple Steve haters does not strike me as very big, to say the least. I heard Ohno wasn't always the nicest around. And I would not dispute him, or Toyota, being lean because of that.

Yeah, I'd give Steve a pretty good lean grade. :)

Frank Power October 20, 2011
Great article and no,Steve was not lean as we know it in the world of manufacturing. Perhaps you should know about the thousands of jobs that were lost here in the USA when all of the Apple work went to Asia.
I was at the front lines in manufacturing parts for Apple when everything was pullled our from under us and shipped abroad.
No one cared about our Lean efforts and the jobs we provided for Americans. Our workers cared about doing the best job at the best value.Can the same be said for offshore suppliers? It has always been about the money for this late great genius and stand by for the fallout because the rush to market on 4S will punish the faithful.
God rest his soul and although Apple have given the world an extraordinary number of Technology tools,none are in use in my manufacturing operations.
FP  Irvine Ca
David Lawrance October 20, 2011
Steve Jobs wasn't lean. He was an autocratic visionary and marketeer, someone with an unusual and advanced sense of function, design, and aesthetics. Most of Apple's products have been extraordinarily expensive, garnering a relatively small market share. But, they usually work, work well, work delightfully well.

To have adopted a Lean philosophy from top to bottom would have destroyed Apple. Apple isn't about teamwork. It can be about customers, but it is first about the product. Unlike the Model T, sometimes you can get an iPhone in white, too, but it is never available in any other color except for black. If you want one in red, blue, or green, you're going to have to find an aftermarket coloring firm to do the work. You get what Apple decides to make. They don't work out a new design with you.

I love the analogy to Henry Ford, because the iPhone is truely the Model T of our day. It is the thing that is a phone, but for many, including me, it is mostly used for other things. It is cool beyond reason, even if everyone else owns one. That was the Model T. Model Ts are still street legal. There are still a bunch of them around. It was all about design and function.
Carla Camarinha October 20, 2011

Yes, definately lean! Steve held a structure that housed some suppliers. Efficiency takes place when everyone works together from the start, from the moment the ideia happens.

Jobs, like Ford, whas a step (or two) ahead of his costumers. Always knew what they would wan't, even before themselves, and better than that, he knew how to make people want they're products.

Jason October 20, 2011
Lean is not the end-all be-all measure success of a company.  It's simply a tool for executing better, faster, cheaper.  Far more important is a great business model, great products, and strong, progressive leadership team.  If those aren't in place, no amount of Lean programs will make that company successful.
Robert Webber October 20, 2011
Lean requires teamwork. To have good teamwork you have respect the individual while holding each team-mate resonsibile for their part of the collective achievement of the team goal(s).
Phil October 20, 2011
If we squish all the Lean stuff into 'straining for perfection' when applied across a value stream, who could argue that Ohno, Ford and Jobs didn't share that DNA, which as we all know, manifests itself in many different forms. The rest is semantics.
Joe Rotger October 20, 2011

Steve was mainly a VOC genius, he had this incredible ability to know what people liked. Another good example is Mozart or The Beatles group.

No doubt they were talented within their domain, but what separated them from the rest was that they sure knew what we liked!

Graham Evans October 20, 2011
Thought provoking piece - thank you. I wonder if we might also usefully consider how Lean might benefit from some Jobs approaches? 
Larry Oden October 20, 2011
Yes, Jobs was lean and enforced the philosophy through-out his organization. Every person in the organiization was expected to be contributng to the production of the final product. If not then you were wasting time. That is how he was able to focus Apple on his return. His micro-management style and demands kept people focused. His style is not lean but the effect was. Consider that lean was hardly known when Apple was developing the Mac; you can visualize the similarities in the methods in review.
Valerie Simone October 20, 2011

Was Steve Lean?  ABSOLUTELY!  Just look at how he managed to eliminate waste!  His are the most streamlined and value-rich products the world has ever seen.  He was positively laser-focused on the customer.  

The disconnect is that he didn't use the Toyota Production System (TPS) to create his products.  But what are our goals here?  If he achieved "Leaner" products than Toyota, shouldn't we be looking at the Apple Production System (APS) for ideas?  

If APS was all in Steve's head, then let's look at that!  How did he think?  By what thought process did he decide that Apple could produce a phone with just one button on the screen?  Then how did he deliver that phone with the functionality of a computer at an affordable price?  He went BEYOND our current understanding of Lean to produce the leanest products in history!

TPS (aka "Lean") is great.  It is an excellent system for engaging the minds of every individual in an organization.  It probably makes for happier employees than Apple's, and no doubt it is beneficial for the customer.  But what can we learn from Steve Jobs here?  Maybe it's time to improve Lean!



Tony Trilling October 20, 2011

Dear John,

You have certainly summed up the achievements of ford & Jobs & how they went about reaching their markets / goals.

Your summary is very thought provoking & I am sure will be extremely helpful to all that take the time to read it.

Thank you John, keep the Lean Machine coming.

Kind regards from Perth, Western Australia.


Tony Trilling


Kerry McPherson October 20, 2011
Very insightful and thought provoking.  Lean or not, Jobs knew what customer value meant and how to deliver it!
Michael P. McCarthy October 20, 2011
I became an Apple convert about a year ago and have marveled at the company ever since.  The products work are cool and popular.  The stores are innovative, slick and busy!
I really appreciated your article on lean comparing Henry Ford and Steve Jobs.  I learned a lot from it including the many comments from other readers.  I think lean should include thinking outside the box!  
Herb Bowie October 20, 2011

Will probably post several comments here to cleanly address different issues. 

Following is a wonderful section of an interview with Walt Mossberg at the D8 conference. I think it illustrates the vast respect that Jobs had for the people he worked with.

Jobs: What I do all day is meet with teams of people and work on ideas and solve problems to make new products, to make new marketing programs, whatever it is.

Mossberg: And are people willing to tell you you're wrong?

Jobs: (laughs) Yeah.

Mossberg: I mean, other than snarky journalists, I mean people that work for…

Jobs: Oh, yeah, no we have wonderful arguments.

Mossberg: And do you win them all?

Jobs: Oh no I wish I did. No, you see you can't. If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don't stay.

Mossberg: But you must be more than a facilitator who runs meetings. You obviously contribute your own ideas.

Jobs: I contribute ideas, sure. Why would I be there if I didn't?

What I love here is Jobs' insistence that good ideas trump positions in the corporate hierarchy. I think this is the essence of Lean's insistence on respect for people. 

Mohan G October 20, 2011
It is very important to be a success in business but it is more important to make the world a better place to live in. Whenever we talk of the world what we are talking about is the people and not the other 'things' in the world. Hence I would prefer to achieve business success by also respecting people, esp your own people who are working for you. Hence even though I have a lot of admiration and respect for Steve Jobs, in my humble opinion, he is not lean
Herb Bowie October 20, 2011
In terms of Jobs preparing Apple for his departure, based on everything I've read, Jobs has done a phenomenal job here. In October of 2008, Apple hired Joel Podolny, the dean of Yale University's School of Management, to serve as a leader for a new initiative known as "Apple University". While many assumed at the time that this would be a new Apple educational offering, recent reports clearly indicate that Podolny's job has been to put together an extensive Apple leadership training program to teach new leaders "The Apple Way." While it is always true that only time will tell whether a company's success can outlast the lifespan of its founder, Jobs clearly thought about the problem and made it one of his top priorities in his final years. 
Ujwal Mantri October 20, 2011
Lean is all about Customer and Customer Value, and What value you are producing for your customer. If I take this simple terms of Customer Value, from Lean. Steve addressed that pretty well.

Also from a problem solving prespective, he did anticipate what would be needed by customer and solved that as a problem in a Innovative way.. Thats Lean...

fre October 20, 2011

No, Steve Jobs was not Lean in any sense - nor is Apple. I say this as a life-time Apple devotee, who has interviewed at Apple twice, and each time turned down the job. I find these comments contain many well-meaning misperceptions about Jobs and Apple. i understand why people feel this way, and I share some of that affection. But it shouldn't cloud us. 

Altho' Jobs famously studied Zen, it did not solve his underlying anger issues. He could not mitigate them, sadly. Jobs was an abusive personality. He threw chairs. He screamed obsenities in meetings. He frequently fired people on the spot in the middle of meetings for the smallest comments or infractions, telling them they had less than 30 minutes to leave the premises. His rage was legendary, altho' it is true that on his second stint, he largely ceased the epic hour-long rages and managed to keep his profane and physical outbursts short.

The story of the man he fired randomly in an elevator ride is famous. His employees loved him and lived in total fear of him. My neighbor had to quit as the project manager of the MacBookPro team because the stress of the expected 70 hour week was causing his hair to fall out. Those of you who believe working at Apple would be dream truly do not understand the conditions and culture there. 

Everyone at Apple experiences "muri" and "mura." Remember, Steve once passed out t-shirts saying "96 hours a week and loving it." At Apple, it is common to work a 10-hr day on Saturdays. That's your "light" day. Jobs truly had zero concern for the fate of the workers at Foxconn, because most of the technologists and project managers at Apple work nearly as long. Their suicides didn't concern him, nor did the bad reputation they earned the company briefly. 

He never, alas, learned to respect people - even as a young man consulting at Atari, he once asked Wozniak to help him write a piece of test code he couldn't do and promised him half of the fee. But in fact he paid Wozniak only 10% of the fee and pocketed the rest. Later, when Apple went public, he refused to honor his promise to share out stock evenly among early employees. Wozniak instead gave up some of his own stock to keep that promise. In his personal life, it's widely known he denied his own daughter for 2 years, falsely claiming to be infertile in an effort to avoid $200 a week in child support - when he was already a billionaire. The state of California had to sue him for it. 

It's crucial to understand that Apple doesn't practice iterative or Agile development or design overall. Those who claim they do again, do not know Apple projects. They are largely a "waterfall" shop, and the culture is definitely a blame-oriented, finger-pointing (or chair-throwing) culture. 

There is much "muda" in Apple management. Much time was spent managing Jobs, massaging to his whims - not all of which were fantastic (does anyone remember the Newton? The cube? There were many flops). The introduction of the white iPhone 4 was delayed for many months because Jobs did not like the whiteness of the color samples - they didn't gleam to his satisfaction. Certainly this didn't provide any value to customers - in fact customers who had pre-ordered white phone waited months while Jobs dailled over this, ordering hundreds of prototypes. 

Jobs obsessive focus on unboxing should show to all how he viewed his product - as a luxury good. He never wanted to be Dell - he always compared his products to Mercedes Benz. At no time did he believe that functionality was the important part of the product - he said that publicly often.

He believed the "experience" was the key Apple value, by which he didn't mean usability. Anyone who has tried to cut and paste on iPhone has experienced just one of the many ways the iPhone offers poor usability, but a great experience.Coming from a time when high-end stereos came in beautiful wooden cases and were considered nearly art objects, he brought that theory forward to the laptop and iPhone. I love my iPhone, but it is a terrible phone. Which is not surprising, because Apple is a computer maker, not a phone maker. 

Jobs considered himself an auteur - his hero was Land, the inventor of the Polaroid. This is a warning sign to the wise. Again, I love Apple products. Yet in many ways we should use Jobs as an object lesson on what not to do. Can you imagine how much more successful Apple could be if it were to apply less terror and more humane, modern management? Collaboration, not command-control-and-punish? 

Herb Bowie October 20, 2011
Apple has been primarily a product development company. When I look at the principles of Lean Product Development, as defined by Liker's book on the topic, Apple clearly applied many of these: Towering technical excellence, front-loaded product development process that thoroughly explores alternative solutions, a culture to support excellence and relentless improvement... while Apple was clearly not slavishly following a Toyota model, they also clearly were following many of the same principles that have become associated with lean. 
Herb Bowie October 20, 2011

... and one final thought. 

While Toyota and Apple were not tackling identical problems, and did not come up with identical solutions to those problems, what they did share, perhaps most importantly, were: 1) the understanding that in order to compete effectively in their respective industries, they had to "think different," to discover their competitors' weaknesses, and make those same areas their own strengths; and 2) the understanding that once they developed their own  "way," they had to stay true to that, rather than following the conventional wisdom that others were trumpeting all around them.  

R b Singh October 20, 2011
Hi John,
i was great comparision between ford and Jobs , very thought provoking though was a bit disappointed that both cared less about senstivity of their stafff or workmen
Mark Graban October 20, 2011

To the one comment of " Michael Dell embodied lean."

No. I worked there from 1999 to 2001. They embodied low inventory, and really that meant "push it back on the suppliers." They had great flow in the factory and everything was true pull from the end customer (build to order) but the supply chain was traditional forecast and push. Dell had a lot of leverage over their suppliers and took advantage of it.

And the Dell culture and management approach in the factories was very far from Lean/TPS. I can't say they at all embodied Lean, as I knew it and know it.

Marc Martinez Lanzarin October 20, 2011

Good article John! I don't know if Jobs was lean or not- my guess is that he was not, but he was innovative and leading edge, that's for sure. His famous quote: "Stay hungry, stay foolish" certainly would lead one to think that he at least embraced some of the concepts of Lean, but perhaps not by intent. His apparent abusive and dismissive demeaner would make it very difficlut if not impossible for him to embrace the very essence of Lean.

Apple is a very interesting and innovative company, and time will tell if it has the staying power to remain cutting-edge, sans Jobs. If it doesn't, you might have your answer.

S.Kannan October 21, 2011

Excellent article . Very true in the sense that Innovation through "Breakthrough technology" creates new markets and results in exponential business growth - being the fundementals of TQM.

This reminds me of an occasion when we were told a decade back by a JUSE professor Shoji Shiba during an audit that this way of business growth using "Break through technology" will greatly help in future eventhough Kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, and many other tools are also required as strong building blocks for any organization 

Aditya Prathipati October 21, 2011
Great analysis Mr. Shook. True that Jobs wasn't an inventor but an agile businessman.
Georgy October 21, 2011

Striving for excellence. Looking to provide customers their true value. Prudent - not cynical to customer needs. If this was S. Jobs - than he is "Lean" for me.

He seemed to be a true leader for his people, even if he was not respectful enough! If he with his deeds was congruent with his words, it was fairly enough to motivate, drive innovation, change, and eventually provide customers and staff with sustanable value.

Christine Wouters October 21, 2011

Steve was for sure a remarkable business man however I don't think he was "lean". Toyota's model is based upon respect for people (not only Toyota employees but also suppliers). Knowing that quite a lot of people in China became seriously ill because of use of hazardous products in the production process of the so successfull IPad, I don't think Steve paid a lot of respect to people who at the end were adding real value by making his products.....

Christine Wouters October 21, 2011

Steve was for sure a remarkable business man however I don't think he was "lean". Toyota's model is based upon respect for people (not only Toyota employees but also suppliers). Knowing that quite a lot of people in China became seriously ill because of use of hazardous products in the production process of the so successfull IPad, I don't think Steve paid a lot of respect to people who at the end were adding real value by making his products.....

Aiea Dragon October 21, 2011

Steve was very Lean.  He appeared visionary because he went straight to the "Ideal State" and bypassed the "Future State" which most of us go to.

It appears that Henry Ford only went to the "Future State."  Hybrids, Electric Cars are fine but I'm still waiting for a visionary like Steve Jobs to get us to the "George Jetson flying bubble craft" Ideal State.

As a Lean visionary and humanitarian, I like Milton Hershey!  No one makes better chocolate and he left his inheritance to the orphanage he started.  He moved to Hershey because his suppliers (cows) were there!  There appears to be good flow in his operation.  He has many patents and a loyal workforce.  The environment is clean and the air is chocolaty and refreshing!
Ged Evans October 21, 2011
Steve Jobs is not only lean himself but he created lean on a global scale. Lets think about TIMWOOD

Transportation: I no loner need to take my CD's to the car and back into the house every time i want to listen to them.

Inventory: I no longer go into a house and see CD's(Inventory taking up floorspace and the cost of a down load is cheaper than buying a CD)

Motion: Eject CD, Find the one you want, put it in the CD Player... Nightmare, not anymore though!

Waiting: Oh i really like this song but i need to wait until the shop opens to buy it... haha... not anymore. Thanks ITUNES.

Over Production: I have all these CD's but only like 4 songs from each. That means i all this product sitting not getting used... Ahhhh Steve Jobs lets me buy all album tracks individually... Thanks Again ITUNES

Over Processing: Lets think about all the Non Value Add activity with your old music collection. Everything is now in one place, contacts, music, gaming, movies, weather forecast, WWW..... And this is all in a place that would fit in an old cassette case.

Defects: Well thats that CD all scratched and wont play anymore... Looks like i will need to go and buy another!
Not anymore. Download is king!

Ask the question again... Was Steve Jobs Lean... He was not only lean but he made the world lean!

R.I.P Steve... Your vision changed the world!

Ged Evans

Pat O'Shaughnessy October 21, 2011
Very insightful. Normal Lean practices are to design a supply chain in response to Customer values of form, fit, function and price. Steve Jobs actually created Customer values. So, perhaps he could be described as a proactive Lean practicioner rather than a reactive one?

PS: For me, the measure of a true global leader is in what they leave behind....have they nurtured better successors and better people through their interaction with them. Not sure how Steve did in this regard. Did he make a difference?....yes for his Customers / not so sure for his associates.

iRIP Steve
Kim Chong October 21, 2011

Steve Jobs encapsulate all the criteria of Lean (all the A's) - An Agile leader with the Ability to Anticipate market needs (focus on Customers), Adopt innovative Best Practices, Adapt to Apple's environment, Apply the right technology to Achieve World-class Product Excellence. 

Jobs had created real Product Value Streams for Apple by "Pulling" all the Core Teams together to achieve his Vision. "Pull" is a fundamental Concept of Lean. He will not succeed if he applied the "Push" concept on his core teams. He is tough but not hard. He is a "Lean" but not a "Mean" leader.

Steve Jobs put the "Lean" concepts into practice without talking about it.

He Walked the Talk - It is "Gemba Kanri & Gemba Genbutsu".

It is what a great Lean Leader should be!

Gauthier Duval October 21, 2011

1 remark, 1 correction, 1 thought

The remark is that we should stop seeing "lean/not lean" in everything. This is one of the things that most puts me off, although I do find lean an absolutely fascinating  subject. Apple has been remarkably successful (whether it will be consistently so is another question) and it's probably more helpful to investigate why without trying to relate its model to the Toyota model.

The correction is that, at least in what he wrote in "My Life and Work" , Ford did mention workers continually looking for  improvements, and did insist on suggestions coming from the shop floor. After all, Toyota picked up the suggestion system from Ford. What Henry Ford did not do, however, was to document learning cycles, and build on them.

The thought is about the Chief Engineer comment, which I found quite interesting. I'm just putting this out for further discussion, but while it can be argued that the CE at Toyota became a guarantor of the integrity of the whole vehicle product, including to the original image of how to please the customer, the Apple products are even more integrated. They form a complete system of hardware, software, distribution, service, and content access -at the level of the company. Maybe Jobs was seeing him self as the CE of a complex system that went far beyond a single physical product...a sort of "corporate CE". By "micro-managing" from the point of view of customer experience, Jobs was maybe doing what Toyota CEs do when they insist on not compromising the initial customer "promise" found in their concept paper.

Henrik Mårtensson October 21, 2011

Interesting article.

I view Steve Jobs as more of a systems thinker and design thinker. From the point-of-view of Maneuver Conflict, a military strategic framework, he would count as a great strategist.

One thing he did was to get inside the decision cycles, the OODA loops, of his competitors. Most of his competitors still haven't caught on to what he did, or how. For example, they still try to compete with the iPhone by building more advanced phones, and by having a wide variety of different models, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. 

I am going to speak about strategic principles and OODA loops at LESS 2011 in late October. I'll use Apple-based examples of things that are both good and bad. Apple tends to be a bit extreme either way: The good things are very good indeed, the bad things really suck.

Would be happy to discuss what we can learn from Apple, both good and bad, at length, but got to continue working.

Anders October 21, 2011
Dear Sir,

my most unscientific reflection is that Microsoft and Apple would constitute the same kinds in their businesses as Ford and GM were last century. I therefore beleive not that Steve Jobs were "lean".

Nevertheless, one must admire such an unusual genious entrepreneur who combined product, process and business in such way, that it actually might have changed the world a bit.
Robin October 21, 2011
Does it matter either way? Lean or not he was the greatest business man and innovator of our time and his success will continue to be admired for years to come. I think the traditioanl lean approach would have cramped his style and would not have worked for Steve. Who cares if he was lean or not. What he did worked and was successful and that is all that matters.  
faeez October 21, 2011
yes, i think he did solve a problem for society by bringing to market innovative products that was needed by the masses at a price that was affordable,good quality,innovative and quickly.
Steve Tolley Manchester UK October 21, 2011

Enjoyed your article John. Thought provocating and well written.

To me both Ford and Jobs deserve their place in history as true innovators and pioneers of successful global businesses. They unquestionably offered true mass employment, improved social conditions, and vastly uprated life styles for millions. 

Both took the lean approach-knowingly or otherwise-looking at the current product/market offerings with a view to improvement-without boundaries. Boy did they do well!


Jason Canning October 21, 2011
I don't think we can really say that Jobs was lean, clearly there is much evidence that he lacked the "respect for people" and "humility" that one identifies with lean.

Much of Apple's success has nothing to do with the actual functionality of the product, there are a lot better phones than the iphone and better music players than the ipod, what Apple is good at is 'life style' selling, the question one has to ask is do Apple's product provide us with the value we want, or the image we are told we should have - how many features of a typical Apple product are used by the average user, if you are charged for something you don't want then that's not lean.

One should also be careful of comparing Job's treatment of staff and those of Ford's. Much of Ford's 'management' techniques will have been influenced by Taylor's Scientific Management which had some poor ideas on how to treat operators, Job's however has had 80+ years of better management to learn from.

It's an interesting question to ask, my opinion is no, but it would be interesting to have been able to see just how powerfull Apple would have been had it been.

Rob White, President, Dahlstrom Roll form October 21, 2011
Very well written and insightful... quite a motivational feeling after reading....thanks!
Abdul October 21, 2011

John as usual your ideas and thoughts are challenging and enlightening. I believe that both Ford & Jobs were more visionary than “Lean” thinkers. However, they both believed in the concept of a product that not only pleases the customers but also “destroy” the competition. Their lack of “frontline staff involvement” will definitely put them outside the Lean arena but their passion to continuous improvement and perfection goes a long way towards lean. In addition if they both believed in “skating to where the where the puck will be” wouldn't that fall within the Gemba concept?

Kevin Kelsey October 21, 2011

Visionary / Entrepreneur


You wrote a great article, John.  This should get people to think more deeply about what lean is and is not.


I don’t think Steve Jobs was necessarily lean, although is sounds like he wanted to use a Toyota business model in 1984.  Jobs was an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He was one of, if not the leading visionary of communications and information technology of this era.  He did what few were even thinking about doing.  He foresaw what people would like, I think to a large extent because it was something he wanted, and yet he was also able to take that vision and put it into practical products that people wanted.  Some can have great visions, some can make things happen, very few can do both.


I think an important point about how lean effects a man like Jobs is that since he was on the leading edge of this IT/communications products revolution, he didn’t need to rely on lean or any other business system to help him capture the market and make money.  The competitors who enter the fray as the product life cycle is growing and those who want to stay in the market as it matures need lean to help them gain and keep profitable market share.
S Badri Narayana October 21, 2011

Well,  I think Steve was lean.. very much- both product design and user experience. For e.g. take the power cord, it is just one light cable with the plug portion fitting into the adapter.. neat and eliminating muda of additional cord prevalent in all other models. Similarly no virus sofwtare needed, so no muda again of an additional s/w. One touch opening of your aps., with fantastic icons on the desktop- a delighter. 

Like this, there many delighters that fascinate and well, delight customers which to me is a fundamental aspect of Lean. Isn't it !

Jess Reyes October 21, 2011

As much respect as I have for Steve Jobs’ delivery of some of the finest, culture changing products in the world I must say;


Steve Jobs is no Henry Ford


…and far from being lean.


Steve appeared to be completely product/engineering focused not really caring about how the products were produced as long as the outcome was good. I really think cheap Far East labor helped him dismiss process responsibilities and helped offset wasteful practices. Ford was totally concerned with process efficiency and the elimination of waste throughout the value chain and used vertical integration to get at it. Ford made sure even ‘waste’ waste was recycled to make use of it. Think about the Kingsford Charcoal you will use this weekend in the Weber. Yes, a Ford waste saving idea to recycle wood scrap waste.

Apple pricing practices is the biggest red flag that shows that Steve Jobs was not lean. Apple products are way over priced even for its target luxury market. And as fashion has it, the largest part of their customer base (around the world) has become people that will sacrifice food, medical and education from the family to have the latest Apple technology. I really believe their high pricing was another way of covering their wasteful practices.


Henry's biggest passion was driving out waste and cost using lean so that the greater part of the savings could be passed on to the "public" in the form of low prices. His cars were reduced by more than 50% over time making them affordable to the general public. And his weapon was lean.

So I don’t think Steve Jobs was lean, but to his credit whether intended or not, he certainly played an important role in bringing the world closer together through electronics as Henry Ford did with transportation.

Cliff Beiser October 21, 2011

The comment Jobs made that showed he listened to and followed hockey showed insight regarding Lean in my opinion. The projects I have been involved with have always involved what the company wanted to become not just "fixing".

Brad Power October 21, 2011
We shouldn't skip over Thomas Edison too quickly.  In addition to being an inventor, I believe that he was actively involved in bringing his inventions to market and commercialization.  For example, I think he created GE to bring electricity to market.  The industries he created to produce light bulbs and deliver electricity may not be as well known as Henry Ford's and Steve Jobs' consumer products.
Tye Lockard October 21, 2011
John, great article! In my humble oppinion I believe Jobs was partially Lean.  The key being an organization may achieve Lean effectiveness and yet still be unhealthy organizationally. 
    From my own experience leadership and Lean are inseparatable for success.  You can not have innovative ideas flowing if you are unwilling to listen to the ideas of those closest to the processes.
     Did Jobs have an unprofound impact on the world as we know it...absolutely.  Was he effective in his leadership style...probably, but at what expense and more importantly what could Apple have achieved in a free flowing, high performing organization?
     Anyone can achieve Lean results however leadership will determine whether Lean is capable of long term sustainement.  
mohamed elmansy October 22, 2011
Dear Mr.Shook
in my point of view lean is not just a tools we uses to make our business success but i think lean is the heart for thr innovation and the leader for it.Steve Jobs have done it.
cevdet özdo?an October 22, 2011

both of them are extremely smart people, they can be succesfull with or without lean.it is not so important and ? think we can find many lean and non lean aproaches of them.

however we need lean as average people to be as successful as they are. 

Arlon-Glenn October 22, 2011
Thank you John, very well written and insightful.  Excellent article of two brilliant minds and thier contributions to society.  It has reinstated by desire to make a difference.
Arlon-Glenn October 22, 2011

That was supposed to read "my desire to make a difference".  I am spoiled by the poka-yoke of spell and grammar check!

Greg Gardner October 22, 2011
Sure Steve was lean ! His powers of observation -- going to the  Gemba and seeing how customers could  use products was perhaps his greater gift .The IPad is his latest  example where he saw how customers were using the PC  and then  gave them what they really wanted .
Jonathon Andell October 22, 2011

I respect what Jobs represented, but I don't see him as a credible proponent of lean. Apple has a legacy of challenges with quality and delivery, whther with or without him at the helm.

He obviously had an irreplacable genius for figuring out what product lines to bring forth. Even if he tried to cultivate it in a successor, that attribute is unlikely to be replaced, ever.

On the human equation, I totally prefer Jobs over Ford. Neither guy had adequate appreciation for the contributions of their workers, but at least Jobs was a decent family guy. Vocationally Ford was the right guy in the right place at the right time, but he was dysfunctional and bigoted. He does NOT deserve a free pass on that account.

Charley C. Chennampilly October 23, 2011

Thanks to Mr. John for your great thinking… & to all for your great live comments…


I don’t know whether Steves Jobs cares his peoples & present customers or NOT; but, I think, he has taken well care of his ‘Future Customer …’


Knowingly or Unknowingly Mr. Steves Jobs made the ‘Life of the World, LEAN…' through its innovative & stylish products…


Belated Salutes to SJ…

tom lane October 23, 2011
Since none of us did or ever will visit the Gemba of Jobs life and managerial style or the workings of his mind, we will not know.  To assume and judge from a distance makes all of us not "lean" and therefore not able to assess what is "lean and not lean".  And so it goes that we all just love to sit back and do our abstract assessments based on third party ideas and reports.   And does it really matter?   So what?  He did what he did and maybe we learn a bit.  
Paul McCrery October 24, 2011
I believe that the man was one of those few visionaries we find in business and simply chose the most appropriate tool for the task. If there was something more suitable I'm sure he'd have used it. Whether his approach was Lean is something we'll see in the legacy he's left to his corporation. Personally I'm not sure it was 100% Lean but given his undoubted skills his approach didn't necessarily have to be.
Bill Belt October 24, 2011
Dear John,

Your newsletters are really interesting, with a lot of details I didn't know about.   In a quick answer to your question, no, I don't think Steve Jobs was Lean.  Although of course I never knew the guy, I don't think he gave a whit about Lean principles, and if the things he did instinctively lined up with Lean, then that's fine.  But he obviously didn't appreciate the basic Lean principle that success is built on the brain cells of the people working in the process.  Ford didn't either, as you point out.  But maybe Jobs' abrasive approach got the brain cells of others in his organization working.  ford didn't think the others HAD any brain cells.

My take on Jobs is that he was a burning creator, like Edison (I don't fully follow your point that a comparison with Edison is not warranted).  Jobs never gave up; Edison never gave up.  Jobs seemed to be the epitomy of Noriako Kano's Quality principle, that innovative quality becomes comparative quality when your competitors latch on, and expected quality at the end, in a sort of downward gravitational pull.  So you have to keep innovating to stay ahead.  Personally, I don't think Jobs did that consciously either; he did it instinctively.  But the tributes from millions tell the story: he certainly understood the Voice of the Customer, the first element of Lean.

Bill Belt
Luis Duran October 25, 2011
Hello John,

I believe Steve Jobs is one of the biggest innovators and a man who had a commitment to improvement which of course confirms that he was LEAN. I think that by following his career and reading his biography we can confirm that his vision and his desire of making things better make him one of the best innovators in this century.

Best Regards

Luis Duran
Graftech International
Steve Bertasso October 25, 2011

Such an interesting question.  I often wonder how lean would ever leader be if put under the same scrutiny as Steve Jobs.  We all have our flaws and areas where we are less effective in our implementation of lean.  I think he, like so many others, was somewhere on the path, but molded his own desires into his complete vision and implemented in the most effective way he could.

Steve Bertasso


Mikhail Kalinin October 27, 2011
Hi, everybody.
It is a great question and interesting discussion.
And this discussion is very important for me because I've asked the question in one of the LinkedIn groups what are the main metrics which can show anyone easily from once glance on the open companys reports like P&L, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow statements that the company is lean or not? There is no answer which I could treat as an answer to my question. All metrics related to Lean are inside the company and believe me there are few companies in Russia willing to share it with others and to provide them to you.
EBIDTA or capitilazation seems also not to be the real lean metrics. Even having in mind that Toyota's capitalization ten times higher than others. But is it the only metric to prove even for the companies within one industry?
John, colleagues, could you, please, help me to understand how to measure Lean?
Thanks and regards.
Mikhail Kalinin
LeanUnion Russia
Richard Karpinski October 27, 2011

I'm biased by havin spent seven years with Jef Raskin so I know that Jobs was a "reality distortion field" and neither consistant nor repectful nor even fair. But on the other hand, he was demanding and perfectionist and insightful. I might have been proud to work for him, happy to argue with him, but I would not have loved every day of it. There is no denying that the man was brilliant and amazingly effective so it's realy hard to ask for more, especialy if you've had the extreme pleasure of working with his products for decades.

I also drive Toyotas, for decades. And I lap up the books about how they do it. And I helped Raskin finish "The Humane Interface" so I got to understand why the Macintosh was so usable. I have to believe that Steve learned a lot from Jef and owed him for the education despite that he seemed not to recognize the value he got and used so effectively from their partnership.

Both of them died of pancreatic cancer, so my homage to those two amazin men is to seek to prove out a natural cure for cancer which has been neglected because it can't be patented, activated macrophages. Maybe next year.

Bharati October 27, 2011

John it was an great i did'nt know about lean as i have gone through ur mail got more knowledge as evry one needs to think diff lean thinking .
There should be continous improvement and keeping the costomer needs in views...........


Ravikumar Achanta October 29, 2011
I believe, Steve Jobs "saw" and grasped how people used devices and used the knowledge to create endearingly useful devices. Here is my own little tribute from how Steve has made a difference to me posted at http://leangemba.com/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=23&Itemid=1
Rajiv October 29, 2011
Many great musicians compose on the fly enthralling their audience. They have a "sense" of what the customer need is and go with the flow. They do not ask their audience what they would like to hear and simply improvise.

Among the artists while many are successful (economically and famewise), very few also end up showing humility and are the countable few who are successful, famous and nice to one and all..such as Mahatama Gandhi !!
Norbert Sterzinger November 1, 2011
I say Yes, Jobs was lean, because you want to use the right tools at the right time and as few as possible to get the best result in the shortest time. In a way he did just that with his intuition and his leadership. Yes, you can turn out great products using lots of time money and lean six sigma tools. In a way with his intuition and leadership he cut out all that additional research that assures there is not a better way. In terms of six sigma he did the filtering to the few critical Xes with his intuition and leadership not with "actual work" and still turned out great products in a very short time. No, it is not the standard lean approach and not everybody just can do that. Very few are that "gifted". So yes the end result is lean, however it is not that easily repeatable or teachable like the standard lean approach.
Francois Leteux November 2, 2011

Hello John,


Good analysis and of course excellent question (the Lean Gemba expert is as ever alive in you, always ending the analysis with a question to spur people into looking at a subject with new angles to make new progress collectively). To explore the subject, I would split it on three levels: the man, the manager and the company.


As a man, I would say that Steve was rather Lean:

His ever-questioning rigorous attitude in the quest of what was likely to satisfy existing and future customers - often, as you remarked, unearthing desires and needs unknown to them before the product or service was launched- compares well with continuous improvement. When we add the ability to learn in-depth from experiments that did not give expected results and the step by step process of inventing small bricks of technology that might be used later aligned with his wide ranging interests in many different fields to help think differently and act accordingly, we are definitely in the heart of Lean here.


As a manager, everything we know about him says that he was not a Lean manager.

In my small Lean consulting practice in Western France, I like to explain Lean Management as a combination of Organization and Facilitation. I know, it is only the basic definition of management, but, here in France, it is often important to go back to basics and this is why. Culturally, many French managers have engineering schools backgrounds and their “training” in the art of management is limited to “you have the technical expertise to solve most problems, so do it and act as a leader”. (I am sure, you think I am kidding, but, unfortunately, I am not). Translated in a Lean effort this situation amounts to Lean tools deployment, a few Kaizen events and not much more. This gives the usual “looks good but people don’t get involved” with improvement not progressing after a while. So explaining that the Lean tools are in the “organization” part of management is a way to open the eyes of managers on their “facilitator” daily role on the Gemba to drive team implication in problem solving and continuous improvement using the Lean tools. And it works, transforming “tech expert leaders” into Lean Managers for the benefit of my customers' Lean deployment efforts. So, why did I mention all this as we were on Steve Jobs? From what we are told, Steve was a technical genius, a business visionary and a charismatic leader who could be forgiven most of his negative traits - abusive, demanding, un-respectful, terror-driving, etc.- because of these outstanding talents. This is the very opposite of what a Lean manager needs to be, using his facilitating skills backed up by his technical knowledge and vision to encourage and guide his teams in continuous product/process development and improvement and, doing so, respecting people and getting them to give their best every day.


As for his company, well, I would say it is pretty much Lean:

At first, let’s look at the value stream extending your own analysis: the idea of designing and marketing in the US of A, manufacturing and assembling in Asia for delivering to most customers in America and Europe does not look like a Lean set-up. However, a more detailed view of the iPhone manufacturing process shows that final assembly by Foxconn in China is only 4% in value of the complete process. Most of the components and sub-assemblies come from South Korea 13%, Japan 34%, Germany 17%, USA 6%, the rest being split between several other countries. So, of course, it looks like one of those streams you and Jim have been writing about, loaded with all kinds of wastes. I am sure that there is lots of potential improvement there, but taking into account that nearly 50% of components and sub-assy are supplied from Asia, mostly due to technological reasons – at least for the Japanese components – organizing the final assembly in China makes pretty good sense value stream wise -and as a bonus, value wise as well, especially if the suppliers have a kind of special partnership status.

As for dedication to customer satisfaction, I would say there are many similarities between Apple and Toyota. Only a high degree of company wide dedication can turn markedly and lastingly customers into fans and even into salespeople. When a company reaches such high standards in repeatedly bringing satisfaction to the only stakeholder – the customer - that makes the company live (cash is blood and oxygen), it is positioned within the ever-efficient loop where all stakeholders –and firstly employees - get more and more satisfaction from what they are doing collectively for the ever-growing benefit of all parties. It is interesting to note at this point that it seems this virtuous cycle can be maintained in spite of the organization being led by a very un-Lean manager. Or, could it be a clue that Steve was a Lean manager as well … after all?


Best regards

François Leteux


Rogerio Sampaio November 14, 2011
I think Jobs used to use a Lean philosophy when he worked restlessly searching THE best product. What did he use to give insights about what direction to go? That was what established the difference. A profound sensibility of the client necessities was much more important than market surveys. Maybe trying to make a parallel on what mattered for him... in an ordinary life of an ordinary human being (what about a gemba walk?). What would be fantastic to have in a product to make his life easier. He showed a tremendous empathy with the public going beyond the rational, just like the Beatles did with their music: touching the hearts and then living forever on hearts and minds of their public.
ERIC MANOUVRIER December 1, 2011

Thanks for this article.

Steve Jobs is remaining us that there is not ONLY 7 MUDAS but 9 !

8st is the MUDA of development, and 9st the MUDA of opportunity.

Steve Jobs has had this skill to try to kill those 2 MUDAS which are NEVER very worked by other companies always focused into the 7 classical ones.

Also, one major point that is more the main point that is given for me Steve Jobs as one major actor of LEAN is that he has always worked on the increase of the margin.

We shouldn't forget that is one of the target of lean.

Then, Steve Jobs has more worked into the 8st and 9st instead of the 7 classical ones but at the end, the result is the target reached !

Because the current TPS has recently had some troubles, may be now we should go further than the 7 classical ones and Steve Jobs has probably introduced the doubt of all our conviction that is the essential point for every body !
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